Isn’t it about time we stopped making the Gospel about us? Go on and sing your Matt Redman songs, we know you don’t really mean it — otherwise Jesus wouldn’t be your personal Lord and saviour. “Personal Lord?” Are you serious? Yes, it’s an oxymoron. Big one. I think sometimes we elevate God to say that he is everything only because of what he did or does for us. Our worship proclaims him great because of the benefits we derive… not simply because he is great. Why do we need proofs rooted in our personal benefit? Sayings like, “If you were the only sinner on earth, Christ would have died for you.” Uh, doesn’t that make it all about you?
I was reading part of an address by Roy Searle on the Northumbria Community website the other day which said that
The loss of the social doctrine of the Trinity has led to the development of a possessive individualism in the Western world. Individualism is at the heart of modern culture – self-interest, me, mine and my. Christians have to rebel against such, not least because it is an insufficient view of humanity. The only thing that was not good before the fall was humanity alone. Humanity from the Christian perspective is persons in relationship/community.
Is it that we have such a hard time thinking of others? Summing up the entire Law and Prophets in two statements, Jesus says to love God and love your Neighbour as yourself. Despite the shoddy exegesis I’ve heard that had some people preaching that the Bible taught us to love ourselves first so we could love our neighbour, Jesus enumerated the commands… One. Love God. Two. Love your neighbour. Sorry, you just don’t factor in. God never told you to love yourself. Paul instructs men in Ephesians 5 to love their wives as much as they love themselves, because after all, “No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church.” He takes the fact that we love ourselves for granted. In Ezekiel 36, God has a little rant about Israel, which includes a bunch of great things he promises to do… verses 24-30:
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. “And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God. I will cleanse you of your filthy behavior. I will give you good crops of grain, and I will send no more famines on the land. I will give you great harvests from your fruit trees and fields, and never again will the surrounding nations be able to scoff at your land for its famines.
Pretty awesome promises there… God must love us an awful lot to do all this great stuff for us, cleansing us of our sin and our evil ways, putting his Spirit in us, even quoting from the Mosaic covenant so we know this is significant stuff. Even our crops will prosper as God shows his care for us! A land as an inheritance and fame among the nations. Wow, God loves us a lot to do all these things for us. Shall we read further and see what else there is? The next verses, 31-32:
Then you will remember your past sins and despise yourselves for all the detestable things you did. But remember, says the Sovereign Lord, I am not doing this because you deserve it. O my people of Israel, you should be utterly ashamed of all you have done!
Apparently it’s not about us after all, even salvation is something for the glory of God’s name and not our benefit. Another translation just says “not for your sake.” That can’t be right, can it? Jesus died for me, right? For us, at least? Not so fast. In Revelation 5:9-10, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the Lamb,
And they sang a new song with these words:
You are worthy to take the scroll
and break its seals and open it.
For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
And you have caused them to become
a Kingdom of priests for our God.
And they will reign on the earth.
So… we were ransomed for God and not for ourselves? Jesus presents us to the Father like currency? Well, not exactly… but pretty darn close. We are redeemed by Christ for God. It appears that this redemption has all along been with the intent that we would be his people and he would be our God. God didn’t feel so sorry for us about us going to Hell and all that he decided to step in and do something about it. The salvation of God is much bigger than this, and it’s an impoverished gospel that reduces it to a transaction like that one. It’s also a gospel of humanism, one which puts us at the very center of everything… and puts us in the driver’s seat. Instead, the truth of the matter is that we are part of a divine story that’s been going on for millennia now, one where we were set into a garden to rule, we break relationship with the one under whose authority we rule, but eventually get things put back right and are able to rule again under his delegated authority. It sounds like a great spot, but the central idea isn’t the ruling, it’s the relationship, which grows through the Jesus Creed… loving God, loving others.
Paul warns Timothy about the difficult or terrible times that will mark the last days — so bad, in fact, that “people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud…” We’re not “number one.” It’s not all about us… and we need to get this idea down inside us in a way that doesn’t look anything like the singing of a Matt Redman song and going back to business as usual by the end of the meeting. No offence to Matt Redman; this isn’t about him either.